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Ed's Critical Reads

Apr 22, 2014

Gasoline Prices Rise to 13-Month High in Lundberg Survey

The average price for regular gasoline at U.S. pumps jumped 8.5 cents in the past two weeks to a 13-month high of $3.6918 a gallon, according to Lundberg Survey Inc.

The survey covers the period ended April 18 and is based on information obtained at about 2,500 filling stations by the Camarillo, California-based company.

Prices are the highest since March 22, 2013. The average is 15.55 cents higher than a year ago, Lundberg said. Gasoline has risen 39.74 cents a gallon since bottoming out in February and is up 43 cents this year.

“The most important factor right now in this rise is crude oil, which rose by a very similar amount to the street-price move,” Trilby Lundberg, the president of Lundberg Survey, said in a telephone interview Sunday. “From here, we will probably see very little increase, if any, with the big caveat of course being crude. If crude prices climb even higher, then this may not be the peak.”

Today's first news item, which is courtesy of West Virginia reader Elliot Simon, was posted on the moneynews.com Internet site on Sunday afternoon EDT.

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Brown Economists: 'Secular Stagnation' May Strangle Economy

The U.S. economy may not mend its woes soon and instead may suffer a bout of "secular stagnation," Brown University economists Gauti Eggertsson and Neil Mehrotra maintain in a recent paper.

A deleveraging shock, a drop in population growth, or an increase in income inequality could shift people from borrowing to savings, the economists say. Essentially, there simply aren't enough promising real-world investments, forcing investors to put their money into stocks, junk bonds, etc. — and not investments that create demand for a product. This weak demand results in economic stagnation.

And with a short-term interest rates already at zero, the Fed will be "unable to generate a sufficient monetary stimulus," they assert. The outcome: a "permanent slump in output," Eggertsson and Mehrotra write.

"It's not a baseline scenario, but I think people should at least be starting to consider the possibility that this could go on for a while," Eggertsson told CNBC.com

This short article also showed up on the moneynews.com Internet site, but this one is from last Friday morning EDT---and it's also courtesy of Elliot Simon.

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Doug Noland: Automatic Stabilizer?

From Yellen: “If the public understands and expects policymakers to behave in this systematically stabilizing manner, it will tend to respond less to such developments. Monetary policy will thus have an ‘automatic stabilizer’ effect that operates through private-sector expectations.”

The traditional gold standard was so effective because it in fact provided an “automatic stabilizer.” If Credit was created in excess, an economy would suffer a loss of gold. The reduced gold reserve would dictate higher rates and a (stabilizing) contraction in lending. Bankers and politicians understood the mechanics of the system (and were committed to sustaining the monetary regime), so they would tighten their belts when excess first emerged. In this way, the gold standard for the most part provided a stabilizing and self-correcting system. These days, everyone knows the Fed will not respond to excess. Our central bank, however, will be predictably quick to print additional “money” at the first sign of a faltering Bubble, liquidity that will further reward financial speculation. Excess begets excess. Today’s system is the very opposite of “automatic stabilizer.”

This all could sound too theoretical. But with the Fed intending to conclude balance sheet leveraging later in the year, this theory might soon be tested.

For obvious reasons, Doug's Friday commentary had to wait until today.  It's always worth reading---and this one is no exception, as I read it over the weekend.

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Lawyers Sue Stock Market for Being Rigged

On March 30, Michael Lewis went on "60 Minutes" and said that the stock market is "rigged." This past Friday, some plaintiffs' lawyers filed a lawsuit against, um, the stock market. This raises many questions, of which the most pressing is, what took so long? The lawsuit is basically just a synopsis of Lewis's book, "Flash Boys," and, I mean, how long can that take? I feel like plaintiffs' lawyers by now must have algorithms to transform news articles into lawsuits, so what was the holdup here?

The other problem with the lawsuit is that it pretty much sues the stock market for being the stock market. So the defendants include pretty much every stock and options exchange, and also literally every brokerage, and literally every high-frequency trading firm. There's a long list of brokerages and HFT firm.

Every brokerage firm that transacted for clients since April 2009 is (supposedly!) a defendant in this lawsuit, including just for instance noisy HFT critics Themis Trading. And everyone who "operated alternative trading venues which provided venues for the anonymous placing of bids and offers" is (supposedly!) a defendant, including just for instance Michael Lewis's heroes at IEX.

This Bloomberg story showed up on their website late yesterday morning EDT---and it's the first offering of the day from Roy Stephens.

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Eight E.U. states in deflation as calls grow for Q.E. in Sweden

Sweden has become the first country in northern Europe to slide into serious deflation, prompting a blistering attack on the Riksbank’s monetary policies by the world’s leading deflation expert.

Swedish consumer prices fell 0.4pc in March from a year earlier, catching the authorities by surprise and leading to calls for immediate action to avert a Japanese-style trap.

Lars Svensson, the Riksbank’s former deputy governor, said the slide into deflation had been caused by a “very dramatic tightening of monetary policy” over the past four years. He called for rates to be slashed from 0.75pc to -0.25pc to drive down the krona, and advised the bank to prepare for quantitative easing on a “large scale”.

Prof Svensson said Sweden was at risk of a “liquidity trap” akin to the 1930s, with deflation causing debt burdens to ratchet up in real terms. Swedish household debt is 170pc of disposable income, among Europe’s highest.

This Ambrose Evans-Pritchard commentary showed up on the telegraph.co.uk Internet site late Friday evening BST---and it's definitely worth reading.  It's the second offering in a row from Roy Stephens.

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Shell tells Putin gas project not derailed by Ukraine

Royal Dutch Shell’s new CEO Ben Van Beurden met with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday, signaling Ukraine tension has not affected investment in Russia, and that energy contracts won't be derailed by international politics.

Chief executive Van Beurden met with the president at his residence outside of Moscow and reaffirmed the company’s commitment to develop Russia’s only liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant with Gazprom.

"We also know that this is going to be a project that will need strong support to succeed. So one of my purposes of meeting with you, Mr. President, is to also secure support for the way forward on this project," Van Beurden said.

“Now is the time to expand this lucrative project, we will need strong support to make it a success,” the oil chief said.

This news item showed up on the Russia Today website on Friday afternoon Moscow time---and I thank South African reader B.V. for sending it our way.

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Deadly shootout in eastern Ukraine threatens Geneva deal

The deadly shootout near the eastern Ukrainian city Slaviansk during the early hours of Sunday has sparked a heated international war of words in the wake of a deal signed in Geneva aimed at averting a broader conflict in the region.

At around 2am (11pm GMT), four vehicles rolled up to a separatist checkpoint near Slaviansk where they opened fire, pro-Russian militants reported. Three people were killed and three more wounded, police in Ukraine’s capital Kiev confirmed.The exact details and who was responsible for the incident are still unclear.

The deaths were the first from armed clashes in eastern Ukraine since Russia, Ukraine, the European Union and the United States signed a truce agreement in Geneva on Thursday calling for all illegal armed groups to surrender their weapons and vacate public buildings in Ukraine.

Sunday’s shootout, however, triggered a war of words between Russia and Ukraine’s government, with each questioning the others commitment to the Geneva deal, which sought in part to bring an end to the worst crisis between the West and Russia since the end of the Cold War.

This news item showed up on the france24.com Internet site early yesterday morning sometime---and it's another contribution from Roy Stephens.

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Russia, U.S. Trade Blame as Ukraine Accord Nears Collapse

Russia and the U.S. traded blame for failing to rein in extremists in Ukraine, as a diplomatic accord reached last week all but collapsed.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov today that “there will be consequences” if Russia fails to act “over the next pivotal days” to restrain pro-Russian militants in eastern Ukraine, spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in Washington. In Moscow, Lavrov called on the U.S. to hold Ukraine’s interim government accountable for curbing what Russia portrays as right-wing militias.

The agreement signed in Geneva by Ukraine, the European Union, the U.S. and Russia on April 17 calls for all illegal groups to give up their arms and return seized buildings. Pro-Russian forces held their ground in several eastern cities, as their leaders denied they were bound by the accord. The government in Kiev has said Russia is behind the unrest, exploiting the situation to prepare a potential invasion.

This Bloomberg story, co-filed from Moscow and Kiev, was posted on their Internet site early yesterday afternoon Denver time.

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Only Ukraine Can Make Peace Happen

If the Ukrainian government in Kiev thinks that the truce signed last week in Geneva will make pro-Russian rebels go away, it had better think again.

Developments before and since the Geneva agreement, signed on April 17, demonstrate that Ukraine is a genuinely divided nation, in which Russian interference is merely a catalyst of resentment. Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, led by the pedantic German diplomat Klaus Zillikens, have reported that neither side is following the agreement. As of April 19, pro-Russian rebels were still holding on to buildings in Donetsk, Lugansk and surrounding small towns, and Ukrainian "self-defense" paramilitaries in Dnepropetrovsk and Kherson were refusing to give up weapons or "regularize."

This should come as no surprise, given that no one in Geneva fully represented the sides in the actual conflict. The interim government is uneasy about the paramilitaries left over from the Maidan revolution that brought it to power. Russia has never admitted it had enough influence over the rebels in the east to make them lay down their arms. To Zillikens the stickler for precision, Russian presence in eastern Ukraine is not even an established fact. "There are signs that foreign consultants worked in Ukrainian territory," he told Echo Moskvy radio. "We do not, however, have any clear proof of that."

This very short Bloomberg op-ed piece showed up on their website yesterday sometime, I believe.  But it's hard to tell, as there's no dateline.  I thank Roy Stephens for sharing it with us---and it's worth reading.

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Pepe Escobar: Ukraine and the grand chessboard

Ukraine is for all practical purposes broke. The Kremlin's consistent position for the past three months has been to encourage the European Union to find a solution to Ukraine's dire economic mess. Brussels did nothing. It was betting on regime change to the benefit of Germany's heavyweight puppet Vladimir Klitschko, aka Klitsch The Boxer.

Regime change did happen, but orchestrated by the Khaganate of Nulands - a neo-con cell of the State Department and its assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian Affairs Victoria Nulands. And now the presidential option is between - what else - two US puppets, choco-billionaire Petro Poroshenko and "Saint Yulia" Timoshenko, Ukraine's former prime minister, ex-convict and prospective president. The EU is left to pick up the (unpayable) bill. Enter the International Monetary Fund - via a nasty, upcoming "structural adjustment" that will send Ukrainians to a hellhole even grimmer than the one they are already familiar with.

Once again, for all the hysteria propagated by the US Ministry of Truth and its franchises across the Western corporate media, the Kremlin does not need to "invade" anything. If Gazprom does not get paid all it needs to do is to shut down the Ukrainian stretch of Pipelineistan. Kiev will then have no option but to use part of the gas supply destined for some EU countries so Ukrainians won't run out of fuel to keep themselves and the country's industries alive. And the EU - whose "energy policy" overall is already a joke - will find itself with yet another self-inflicted problem.

This absolute must read commentary by Pepe was posted on the Asia Times Internet site last Thursday---and it's another contribution to today's column from reader B.V.

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BRICS aim to finish development bank preparations by July summit

The BRICS bloc of emerging economies will have all preparatory work done for setting up its development bank by the group's summit in July, South African Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan said on Thursday.

The bank Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa plan to support infrastructure projects has been slow in coming, with prolonged disagreements over its funding, management and headquarters.

The group, which has struggled to take coordinated action on most issues in the past year after the scaling back of U.S. stimulus prompted an exodus of capital from their markets, is hoping their leaders will officially launch the bank at their July meeting in Brazil.

"We've made very good progress on the new development bank and most of the formal documentation is ready," Gordhan told journalists after a meeting of the BRICS finance ministers in Washington.

This Reuters story, filed from Washington, is 11 days old but dovetails nicely with the Escobar commentary above---and it's also courtesy of reader B.V.

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Iran Gets an Unlikely Visitor, an American Plane, but No One Seems to Know Why

President Obama has warned that Iran is not open for business, even as the United States has loosened some of its punishing economic sanctions as part of an interim nuclear pact.

Yet on Tuesday morning, Iran had an unlikely visitor: a plane, owned by the Bank of Utah, a community bank in Ogden that has 13 branches throughout the state. Bearing a small American flag on its tail, the aircraft was parked in a highly visible section of Mehrabad Airport in Tehran.

But from there, the story surrounding the plane, and why it was in Iran — where all but a few United States and European business activities are prohibited — grows more mysterious.

While federal aviation records show the plane is held in a trust by the Bank of Utah, Brett King, one of its executives in Salt Lake City, said, “We have no idea why that plane was at that airport.”

This very interesting story showed up on The New York Times website last Friday---and is certainly worth your time, if you have it.  Once again my thanks go out to Roy Stephens for digging it up for us.

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U.S. says forfeiture over Iran assets in New York, elsewhere will be record terror-related deal

A federal judge has approved plans to sell a 36-story Manhattan office building and other properties owned by Iran nationwide in what will be the largest terrorism-related forfeiture ever, a prosecutor said Thursday.

U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said Judge Katherine Forrest approved the deal between the U.S. government and 19 holders of more than $5 billion in terrorism-related judgments against the government of Iran, including claims brought by the estates of victims killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The deal calls for the Manhattan building and other forfeited assets to be sold by the U.S. Marshals Service, with the U.S. government receiving reimbursement for litigation expenses and any costs of the sales before the rest is distributed to victims of terrorist attacks. The agreement stems from a 2008 lawsuit by the government against the building's owners.

Bharara said the settlement is an important step toward "completing what will be the largest ever terrorism-related forfeiture and providing a substantial recovery for victims of terrorism."

Excuse me for bringing up an "Inconvenient Truth"---but most of the "hijackers" involved in 9/11 were from Saudi Arabia---that's if you believe the American government's fairy tale about what happened on that day.  This AP story was picked up by Fox News---and posted on their Internet site on Thursday sometime---and I thank internationalman.com senior editor Nick Giambruno for bringing it to our attention.

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China Court Impounds Japanese Ship in Unprecedented Seizure

A Shanghai court ordered the seizure of a Japanese ship owned by Mitsui OSK Lines Ltd. as compensation for the loss of two ships leased from a Chinese company before the two countries went to war in 1937.

The 226,434-ton Baosteel Emotion was impounded on April 19 at Majishan port in Zhejiang province as part of a legal dispute that began in 1964, the Shanghai Maritime Court and Mitsui OSK said in notices on their websites.

The holding of the ship reflects strained ties between China and Japan amid a territorial dispute over an island chain and visits by Japanese politicians to a Tokyo shrine honoring that country’s war dead. The move is the first time a Chinese court has ordered the seizure of Japanese assets connected to World War II, and could cast a pall over the countries’ trade, according to Shogo Suzuki, a senior lecturer at the University of Manchester in the U.K. who studies China-Japan relations.

Wow!  This is an ugly turn of events---and certainly turns up the tension level more than a notch.  This Bloomberg news item, filed from Beijing, was posted on their website in the wee hours of yesterday morning MDT---and it's definitely worth reading.  It's also courtesy of Roy Stephens.

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Japan’s Trade Deficit Widens as Export Growth Weakens

Japan’s weakest export growth in a year spurred a wider-than-forecast trade deficit in March, adding to challenges for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in steering the economy through the aftermath of an April 1 sales-tax rise.

The 1.8 percent rise in the value of shipments overseas from a year earlier, reported today by the Ministry of Finance, compared with a 6.5 percent median estimate of 27 economists in a Bloomberg News survey. An 18.1 percent jump in imports helped widen the deficit to the biggest ever for the month.

Exports by volume fell the most since June last year, suggesting external demand may fail to provide much support for an economy set to contract this quarter. A spending spree ahead of the tax increase boosted imports, already swollen by a surge in energy costs due to the yen’s slide and nuclear shutdowns.

This Bloomberg news item, filed from Tokyo, was posted on their Internet site late on Sunday evening Mountain Daylight Time---and I found it in yesterday's edition of the King Report.

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Nine King World News Blogs/Audio Interviews

1. Victor Sperandeo [#1]: "Legend Who Predicted 1987 Crash Warns "This Will End Badly"  2. Egon von Greyerz: "A Bankrupt World---$26,000 Gold---and the Destruction of Wealth"  3. James Turk: "Gold Market Now Seeing Deepest Backwardation in 8 Months!"  4. Victor Sperandeo [#2]: "The Catastrophic End Game---and Skyrocketing Gold Prices"  5. Ronald-Peter Stoferle: "Two of the Most Remarkable Charts We've Seen This Year"  6. Robert Fitzwilson: "Shocking Events Rapidly Unfolding Around the World"  7. Richard Russell:  "The Dollar Will Crash in a Matter of Months"  8. The first audio interview is with Victor Sperandeo---and the second audio interview is with Dr. Philipa Malmgren

[Please direct any questions or comments about what is said in these interviews by either Eric King or his guests to them, and not to me. Thank you. - Ed]
 

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Sprott's Thoughts: Why Rick Rule Says ‘Anti-gold Investors Will be Destroyed’

Gold has made its way down again, to around 1,300 per ounce this month. Rick Rule, Chairman of Sprott Global Resource Investments Ltd. says that a few years out, you will be happy you stuck with gold.

For context to today’s downturn, look back at the great bull market for gold in the 1970s’.

As Rick recently put it to King World News, “that is the kind of regret that no investor wants to live with for the rest of their lives.”

Rick believes the overall bull market will return and produce substantial returns to investors who own gold.

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China Spot Copper Premium Surges as Supply Cut: Chart of the Day

Copper fabricators in China, the biggest consumer, are paying the highest premium in 29 months to secure delivery of the metal that’s used in everything from electric wires to water pipes.

Chinese smelters are hoarding the metal in bonded warehouses in an attempt to drive up the local price against the rate in London and sell it abroad at a profit, according to SMM Information & Technology Co. At the same time, local traders have locked up as much as 1 million metric tons as collateral to get credit for other investments, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. said on March 18.

The CHART OF THE DAY tracks spot prices in Shanghai and the futures contract for immediate delivery on the Shanghai Futures Exchange. The lower panel shows the premium reached 585 yuan ($94) a ton on April 16, the highest level since November 2011.

“The premium has surged while stockpiles in the physical market are decreasing rapidly as Chinese smelters are selling their copper to bonded zones,” said Jiang Ning, a senior analyst with Shanghai-based SMM Information.

This Bloomberg piece, filed from Shanghai, was posted on their Internet site at noon in Denver on Sunday---and it's the final offering of the day from Elliot Simon.

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The New York Sun: Piketty's Gold?

In terms of public policy, though, we favor honest money. It works out better for more people. And there is a moral dimension to the question of honest money. This was a matter that was understood — and keenly felt — by the Founders of America, who almost to a man (Benjamin Franklin, a printer of paper notes, was a holdout), cringed with humiliation at the thought of fiat paper money. They’d tried it in the revolution, and it had been the one embarrassment of the struggle. They eventually gave us a Constitution that they hoped would bar us from ever making the same mistake.

There is an irony here for Monsieur Piketty. It was France who gave us Jacques Rueff, the economist who had the clearest comprehension of the importance of sound money based on gold specie. He was, among other things, an adviser of Charles de Gaulle. It was de Gaulle who in 1965, called a thousand newspapermen together and spoke of the importance of gold as the central element of an international monetary system that would put large and small, rich and poor nations on the same plane. We ran the complete text of Professor Piketty’s book “Capital” through the Sun’s own “Electrically-operated Savvy Sifter” and were unable to find, even once, the name of Rueff.

Reflecting on French economist Thomas Piketty's new book, "Capital," The New York Sun offers a most politically incorrect explanation for the explosion in income inequality and unemployment in the United States since the 1970s: the end of the dollar's gold convertibility and the unleashing of the age of infinite fiat money.  I found this N.Y. Sun editorial embedded in a GATA release yesterday---and it's worth reading.

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Barrick Proposal to Acquire Newmont Hits Roadblock, Sources Say

Talks between Barrick Gold Corp and Newmont Mining Corp about a potential merger have hit a snag, but sources close to the situation say the companies remain keen to reach a deal and discussions are likely to resume.

The talks had been on for a few weeks, and the two sides had broadly agreed to a transaction under which Toronto-based Barrick would acquire Denver-based Newmont in an all-stock deal, said one source close to the matter.

That source said the deal would offer Newmont shareholders a slight premium to its current share price. Newmont shares rose 6.4 percent to close at $25.05 on the New York Stock Exchange, while Barrick's shares edged down 78 cents Canadian to C$19.03.

The sources, who asked not to be named due to the sensitive nature of the situation, said the talks have stalled over the issue of the spin-out of some assets from the combined entity, which is among the hurdles to a deal.

This gold-related story showed up in a Reuters piece filed from Toronto very early yesterday evening---and another item I found over at the gata.org Internet site yesterday.

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Press’ anti-gold scare tactics largely ineffective

The first lesson to file for future reference is that major banks with huge balance sheets and big-name consultants do not necessarily have a better crystal ball on the gold price than anyone else. The second is that, when it comes to gold reporting, one should not accept as gospel everything one sees or reads in the mainstream media. Its traditional anti-gold bias bleeds from its pages, so to speak, and should be taken with a grain of salt.

The mainstream media, for whatever reason, continues to believe that it can scare potential gold owners away with its consistently negative coverage, but as a recent Gallup Poll suggests, such tactics no longer work all that well. That poll ranks gold the second best option among long-term investments behind real estate and tied with stocks.

What makes gold’s poll performance interesting is that it reflects public opinion on gold after a more than two year decline that began in 2011 and at a time when real estate and stocks have enjoyed strong performances. In 2011, after ten straight years of annual gains, the public ranked gold the number one investment. Prior to 2011 gold was not included in the Gallup survey.

This commentary by Mike Kosares, was posted on the usagold.com Internet site on Sunday---and it's certainly worth skimming.

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Sprott cites GATA consultant on Chinese demand, notes paper bombing of gold

Interviewed by Sprott Money News, Sprott Asset Management CEO Eric Sprott cites gold researcher and GATA consultant Koos Jansen and GoldMoney's Alasdair Macleod in support of his belief that the World Gold Council's estimates of China's gold demand are grossly understated. Sprott also discusses last week's manipulation of the gold market via the dumping of a huge amount of paper gold.

The interview, which was posted on the sprottmoney.com Internet site last Thursday, runs for 10:28 minutes.

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CORRECTION: Platinum producers increase wage offer, negotiations resume

Editor's note: A previous version of this article titled "Platinum producers capitulate on union pay demand" updated by Mineweb's Kip Keen incorrectly stated Impala Platinum and Anglo American had met Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) demands. Mineweb apologises for any confusion it created.

While the platinum producers new offer is significant and guarantees more years of higher wage increases, it does not fully meet AMCU demands.

The AMCU has asked for an increase in basic pay to R12,500 over a 4-year period for entry-level workers.

Impala and Anglo American are now offering R12,150 in cash remuneration - which includes basic pay but also a living allowance and holiday pay - over a five year period for entry-level workers. The new offer would be reached by 2017 and, as previous offers, would be back dated to mid 2013.

It's obviously back to the drawing board for negotiations between the platinum producers and their workers in South Africa.  This correction to the mineweb.com's Thursday story was posted on their website shortly after the original news item showed up there.

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China stands tough on rare earths trade war; appeals WTO ruling

China’s Ministry of Commerce (MOFCOM) announced Thursday that it will appeal a World Trade Organization ruling that China’s restrictions on rare earths, molybdenum and tungsten exports violate global trade rules.

In response to a reporter’s question during a press briefing Thursday, Ministry of Commerce spokesman Shen Danyang told reporters China would present its cross appeal to the WTO Thursday.

No matter what the outcome of the appeal, Shen said, China will continue to protect resources and environmental policy objectives will not change. China will continue to comply with the WTO rules on strengthening the management of resources products and maintaining fair competition, he stressed.

This news item showed up on the mineweb.com Internet site last Friday.

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China allows gold imports via Beijing, sources say, amid reserves buying talk

China has begun allowing gold imports through its capital Beijing, sources familiar with the matter said, in a move that would help keep purchases by the world's top bullion buyer discreet at a time when it might be boosting official reserves.

The opening of a third import point after Shenzhen and Shanghai could also threaten Hong Kong's pole position in China's gold trade, as the mainland can get more of the metal it wants directly rather than through a route that discloses how much it is buying.

China does not release any trade data on gold. The only way bullion markets can get a sense of Chinese purchases is from the monthly release of export data by Hong Kong, which last year supplied $53 billion worth of gold to the mainland.

"We have already started shipping material in directly to Beijing," said an industry source, who did not want to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media. The quantities brought in so far are small, as imports via Beijing have only been allowed since the first quarter of this year, sources said.

This very interesting Reuters story, filed from Singapore yesterday, is definitely a must readZero Hedge also had something to say about this story as well.  It's headlined "China Goes Dark: PBOC to Keep Goldbugs Clueless About Its Gold Buying Spree"---and is courtesy of reader Bill Crampton.

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Apr 18, 2014

NYT: Rents No Longer "Affordable" for Most Americans

Demand for rental housing has soared over the past seven years, and that has pushed rents higher than many middle-class Americans can afford to pay.

A rule of thumb is that households shouldn't pay more than 30% of their income on rent and utilities.

But now half of U.S. renters devote more than 30% of their income to housing, up from 38% in 2000, revealed a report from Harvard University.

Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan has called this "the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known."

The story from The New York Times showed up on the moneynews.com Internet site early Wednesday afternoon EDT---and today's first news item is courtesy of West Virginia reader Elliot Simon.

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IHS Economist: "Living Standards Will Suffer" as Food Prices Surge

Food prices are registering sharp gains, climbing 0.4% in both February and March and threatening to put a damper on the economy.

What's happening is that wholesalers have raised the prices they charge grocers, and grocers in turn have passed along the increases to their customers, USA Today reports. That obviously creates a hardship for consumers, who account for about 70% of GDP.

"Living standards will suffer, as a larger percentage of household budgets are spent on grocery store bills, leaving less for discretionary spending," Chris Christopher, an economist at IHS Global Insight, told USA Today.

The bad news may not be over. California's drought will probably push prices upward this year for fruits and vegetables, including avocados, lettuce and berries, Timothy Richards, a professor at Arizona State University's business school, told the paper.

This short article from USA Today on Thursday, was also picked up by the moneynews.com Internet site---and it's also courtesy of Elliot Simon.

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Hedge Funds Post Worst First-Quarter Results Since 2008

It’s time again for another installment of “Hedge Funds Are a Ripoff,” our long-running series chronicling the asset class’s habit of underperforming far less exotic investments while charging more and limiting clients’ access to their own money.

Hedge funds posted their worst first-quarter results since 2008, according to financial data service Preqin, whose “All Hedge Fund Strategies” index shows a gain of 1.2% since the start of the year. That compares with a 1.8% total return for the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index through March 31. Hedge funds have badly trailed plain-vanilla equities over the past 12 months, gaining 8.53% vs. 19.32% for the S&P. In 2013, the gap between hedge funds and stocks was the widest since 2005.

Defenders of hedge funds often get exasperated when the asset class gets compared with stocks: The investments are not supposed to outperform equities when the market is on a tear, this argument goes—they operate complicated strategies that hedge against lots of contingencies, so that they do well in all types of weather. Well, nobody would call 2014 a bull market, and hedge funds aren’t exactly shining now, either.

This piece appeared on the businessweek.com Internet site on Wednesday---and I found it in yesterday's edition of the King Report.

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Matt Taibbi: The SuperRich in America Have Become "Untouchables" Who Don't Go to Prison

Earlier this month, attorney James Kidney, who was retiring from the Securities and Exchange Commission, gave a widely reported speech at his retirement party. He said that his bosses were too "tentative and fearful" to hold Wall Street accountable for the 2008 economic meltdown. Kidney, who joined the SEC in 1986, had tried and failed to bring charges against more executives in the agency’s 2010 case against Goldman Sachs. He said the SEC has become "an agency that polices the broken windows on the street level and rarely goes to the penthouse floors. ... Tough enforcement, risky enforcement, is subject to extensive negotiation and weakening," he said.

Well, for more, we turn to our guest Matt Taibbi, award-winning journalist formerly with Rolling Stone magazine, now with First Look Media. His new book is called The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.

Matt, we welcome you back to Democracy Now! It’s a remarkable, important, certainly needed book in this day and age. Talk about the thesis. What is the divide?

This interview/book review was posted on the alternet.org website on Tuesday---and for content and length reasons, had to wait for today's column.  It's the first offering of the day from Roy Stephens.  This will be on my must-read pile for the weekend.

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After Success on Iran, US Treasury's Sanctions Team Faces New Challenges

This is what the modern American war room looks like: the clocks on the wall show the times in Kabul, Tehran and Bogota. The faces around the conference table are mostly young. There is talk of targets, and of middle-of-the-night calls to Europe.

But the meeting one recent morning convened deep within the Treasury Department, not the Pentagon. The weapons at hand were not drones or cruise missiles, but financial sanctions, aimed with similar precision at U.S. rivals' economic interests.

Before discussing possible next steps against Russia over its annexation of Crimea, Adam Szubin, the slim, boyish-looking director of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, thanked his team for putting in a string of sleepless nights to devise sanctions against senior Russian officials and associates of President Vladimir Putin.

The measures, rolled out in three executive orders signed by President Barack Obama in March, included blocking the Russians and Bank Rossiya, Russia's 17th-largest bank, from access to the U.S. financial system and freezing their U.S. assets.

This longish Reuters story, filed from Washington, was posted on their website late Monday afternoon EDT---and it's another news item that had to wait for today's column.  It's definitely worth reading---and Ambrose Evans-Pritchard touches on it in the story from The Telegraph posted below this one.  I thank internationalman.com senior editor Nick Giambruno for bringing it to our attention.

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US Financial Showdown with Russia Is More Dangerous Than It Looks, for Both Sides

The United States has constructed a financial neutron bomb. For the past 12 years an elite cell at the US Treasury has been sharpening the tools of economic warfare, designing ways to bring almost any country to its knees without firing a shot

The strategy relies on hegemonic control over the global banking system, buttressed by a network of allies and the reluctant acquiescence of neutral states. Let us call this the Manhattan Project of the early 21st century.

"It is a new kind of war, like a creeping financial insurgency, intended to constrict our enemies' financial lifeblood, unprecedented in its reach and effectiveness," says Juan Zarate, the Treasury and White House official who helped spearhead policy after 9/11.

“The new geo-economic game may be more efficient and subtle than past geopolitical competitions, but it is no less ruthless and destructive,” he writes in his book Treasury's War: the Unleashing of a New Era of Financial Warfare.

This absolute must read Ambrose Evans-Pritchard commentary showed up on the telegraph.co.uk Internet site very early Wednesday evening BST---and I found it in yesterday's edition of the King Report.

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Runaway Spy Snowden Is Surprise Guest on Putin Phone-In

Edward Snowden, the fugitive former U.S. spy agency contractor who leaked details of U.S. intelligence eavesdropping, made a surprise appearance on a TV phone-in hosted by Vladimir Putin on Thursday, asking the Russian president if his country also tapped the communications of millions.

The exchange was the first known direct contact between Putin and Snowden since Russia gave the American refuge last summer after he disclosed widespread monitoring of telephone and internet data by the United States and fled the country.

Snowden was not in the studio with Putin, who angered U.S. President Barack Obama by refusing to send the American home to face espionage charges. He submitted his question in a video clip that a lawyer said had been pre-recorded.

Snowden, 30, wearing a jacket and open-collar shirt and speaking before a dark background, asked Putin: "Does Russia intercept, store or analyze, in any way, the communications of millions of individuals?"

This must-read Reuters story, filed from Moscow, was posted on their Web site late on Thursday morning EDT---and it's the second contribution to today's column from Roy Stephens.

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Putin Says it's Impossible for Europe to Stop Buying Russian Gas

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday it would not be possible for Europe, which is trying to cut its reliance on Russian energy, to completely stop buying Russian gas.

Putin also said that the transit via Ukraine is the most dangerous element in Europe's gas supply system, and that he was hopeful a deal could be reached with Ukraine on gas supplies.

Russia meets around 30% of Europe's natural gas needs. Moscow's actions in Ukraine have spurred attempts by the continent to reduce its dependency on oil and gas supplies from the former Cold War foe.

"Of course, everyone is taking care about supply diversification. There, in Europe, they talk about increasing independence from the Russian supplier," said Putin.

This is another moneynews.com story that's courtesy of Elliot Simon.  It was posted on their Internet site later in the morning EDT.

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Opinion: Putin's Q&A Session Was Brilliant, Sincere, Warm, and Compassionate

The President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin conducted his yearly question-and-answer session with the public and citizens of Russia, this time spending approximately three hours and fifty minutes answering a wide range of questions in an impressive manner never once faltering or at a loss and citing facts, figures and details on everything from assisting a disabled man to obtain a home to the aggressive expansion of NATO to the East. This year the Kremlin added a the possibility of sending in video for those who wanted to ask the president questions, as well as text messages, e-mails, regular post, phone calls and submissions through the Internet.

This very interesting commentary, which is worth reading, showed up on the voiceofrussia.com Internet site early on Thursday evening Moscow time---and it's the final offering of the day from Roy Stephens, for which I thank him.

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Saudi Spy Chief Ousted Under US Pressure: Experts

The exit of Saudi's spy chief was the result of US pressure over his stance on Syria but does not signal a shift in Riyadh's goal of toppling the Damascus regime, experts say.

Riyadh, as is usual, did not elaborate on its statement this week that Prince Bandar bin Sultan was being replaced, saying only that the veteran diplomat had asked to step down.

But a Saudi expert said that Washington -- irritated for some time by Prince Bandar's handling of the Syria dossier -- had in December demanded his removal.

This news item showed up on the france24.com Internet site later in the afternoon Europe time---and it's certainly a must read for all students of the New Great Game.

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Death from Above: How American Drone Strikes Are Devastating Yemen

The people of Yemen can hear destruction before it arrives. In cities, towns and villages across this country, which hangs off the southern end of the Arabian Peninsula, the air buzzes with the sound of American drones flying overhead. The sound is a constant and terrible reminder: a robot plane, acting on secret intelligence, may calculate that the man across from you at the coffee shop, or the acquaintance with whom you've shared a passing word on the street, is an Al Qaeda operative. This intelligence may be accurate or it may not, but it doesn't matter. If you are in the wrong place at the wrong time, the chaotic buzzing above sharpens into the death-herald of an incoming missile.

Such quite literal existential uncertainty is coming at a deep psychological cost for the Yemeni people. For Americans, this military campaign is an abstraction. The drone strikes don't require U.S. troops on the ground, and thus are easy to keep out of sight and out of mind. Over half of Yemen's 24.8 million citizens – militants and civilians alike – are impacted every day. A war is happening, and one of the unforeseen casualties is the Yemeni mind.

Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma and anxiety are becoming rampant in the different corners of the country where drones are active. "Drones hover over an area for hours, sometimes days and weeks," said Rooj Alwazir, a Yemeni-American anti-drone activist and co-founder of Support Yemen, a media collective raising awareness about issues afflicting the country. Yemenis widely describe suffering from constant sleeplessness, anxiety, short-tempers, an inability to concentrate and, unsurprisingly, paranoia.

Ah, yes!  America bringing "democracy" to all countries of the world.  This two-page essay showed up on the Rolling Stone Web site on Monday---and is another news item that had to wait for today's column.  It's also another offering from Roy Stephens.

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America's Coup Machine: Destroying Democracy Since 1953

Soon after the 2004 U.S. coup to depose President Jean-Bertrand Aristide of Haiti, I heard Aristide's lawyer Ira Kurzban speaking in Miami.  He began his talk with a riddle: "Why has there never been a coup in Washington D.C.?"  The answer: "Because there is no U.S. Embassy in Washington D.C."  This introduction was greeted with wild applause by a mostly Haitian-American audience who understood it only too well.

Ukraine's former security chief, Aleksandr Yakimenko, has reported that the coup-plotters who overthrew the elected government in Ukraine "basically lived in the (U.S.) Embassy.  They were there every day."  We also know from a leaked Russian intercept that they were in close contact with Ambassador Pyatt and the senior U.S. official in charge of the coup, former Dick Cheney aide Victoria Nuland, officially the U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs.  And we can assume that many of their days in the Embassy were spent in strategy and training sessions with their individual CIA case officers.

To place the coup in Ukraine in historical context, this is at least the 80th time the United States has organized a coup or a failed coup in a foreign country since 1953.  That was when President Eisenhower discovered in Iran that the CIA could overthrow elected governments who refused to sacrifice the future of their people to Western commercial and geopolitical interests.  Most U.S. coups have led to severe repression, disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture, corruption, extreme poverty and inequality, and prolonged setbacks for the democratic aspirations of people in the countries affected.  The plutocratic and ultra-conservative nature of the forces the U.S. has brought to power in Ukraine make it unlikely to be an exception.

If I had to pick just one story for you to ready today---this would be it.  And if you want to hear about these sorts of things from the inside, John Perkins, author of Confessions of an Economic Hit Man, was an operative for the U.S. in some of these situations.  This longish essay showed up on the alternet.org Web site on April 8---and it's another contribution from Roy Stephens, for which I thank him.

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Japan Population Drops for Third Year Straight; 25% Are Elderly

Japan’s population has shrunk for the third year running, with the elderly making up a quarter of the total for the first time, government data showed Tuesday.

The number of people in the world’s third-largest economy dropped by 0.17% or 217,000 people, to 127,298,000 as of last Oct. 1, the data said. This figure includes long-staying foreigners.

The number of people aged 65 or over rose by 1.1 million to 31.9 million, accounting for 25.1% of the population, it said.

With its low birthrate and long life expectancy, Japan is rapidly graying and already has one of the world’s highest proportions of elderly people.

This very interesting story is definitely worth reading.  It was posted on the japantimes.co.up Internet site on Tuesday sometime---and it's another story I found in yesterday's edition of the King Report.

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Japan Bond Market Liquidity Dries Up as BoJ Holding Crosses ¥200 Trillion

The Bank of Japan’s massive purchases of government debt hit a milestone this week, sucking liquidity out of the market to such an extent that the benchmark 10-year bond went untraded for more than a day, the first time in 13 years.

Data from the BoJ late on Monday showed its holding of Japanese government bonds topped ¥200tn ($1.96tn), or about 20% of outstanding issuance – up by more than half from ¥125tn about a year ago.

The fall in market liquidity looks set to intensify as the BoJ has vowed to continue its aggressive buying for at least another year, with market players expecting it to expand its easing some time later this year.

“Everybody thinks the market is not going to move for the time being because of the purchase by our dear customer, the BoJ,” said a trader at a major Japanese brokerage.

This Reuters story from Tuesday found a home over at the gulf-times.com Internet site---and I thank reader 'David in California' for sending it around yesterday.

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Five King World News Blogs

1. David P: "One of the Greatest Opportunities In More Than a Decade"  2. Art Cashin: "Unprecedented $5 Trillion Liquidity Monster to Be Unleashed"  3. Keith Barron: "The Elites Fear What Will Crash the Global Financial System"  4. Richard Russell: "Silver---and the Greatest Mistake My Father Made"  5. "Pippa" Malmgren: "Western Default, China---and Gold"

[Please direct any questions or comments about what is said in these interviews by either Eric King or his guests to them, and not to me. Thank you. - Ed]

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Paper Gold Falls in West, but Premium for Real Metal Jumps in India

Hawala Premium Crosses 4% as Akshay Tritiya Boosts Demand; Spot Delivery Premium also Doubles

The premium for getting spot delivery for gold in the Indian market jumped to $70 an ounce from $35 a couple of days earlier, with a sudden scarcity.

While the trade is facing a scarcity of gold in official channels due to lower imports by private banks, the increase in demand in the unofficial market resulted in the hawala market premium crossing four per cent from 2.75-3% a few days earlier and 2-2.25% a month before, said a source in the Kolkata market, where smuggled gold inflow is said to be higher.

Recently, gold spot premiums were on a downward trajectory due to permission to five private banks to import gold. However as the new financial year had begun, a private bank bullion desk official said quarterly and yearly targets were being fixed, which is why their import was limited.

This gold-related news item, filed from Mumbai, showed up on the Business Standard Web site late on Wednesday evening IST---and I found it embedded in a GATA release.

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Asia Takes Every Ounce West Unloads, but Gold Will Fall for Two Years, GFMS Says

A lack of investment interest in gold is starting to take its toll on the price, with an average of $1,225/oz forecast for 2014 and heading lower in 2015, GFMS said Thursday in its Gold Survey 2014.

The price forecast is 13% lower than the 2013 average of $1,411.23/oz.

"The price is expected to post 2014 lows in mid-year, with a fundamentally driven rally thereafter, but this is likely to peter out in early 2015," the Thomson Reuters/GFMS survey read.

Despite the "heavy visible sales from Exchange Traded Funds, driving a 25% price fall in the second quarter [of 2013], OTC investors were net buyers in 2013, notably in East Asia and the Middle East," the report read.

This story showed up on the platts.com Internet site midmorning in London yesterday---and it's another gold-related news item I found in a GATA release.  By the way, I'd take anything that GMFS says with a big grains of salt.  But it's worth reading nonetheless.

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Platinum Shortfall to Take Four Years to Fix - Morgan Stanley

A labor dispute that all but shut platinum mines in South Africa since January is extending the longest shortfall in global production since 2005, which Morgan Stanley predicts will take at least four years to fix.

For a third straight year, makers of auto parts and jewelry will use more of the metal than is mined. Credit Suisse Group AG on March 31 raised its deficit forecast for this year by 25% to 836,000 ounces, after concluding the strike in South Africa, the world’s top producer, will prevent more than 1 million ounces from being retrieved in 2014.

Workers who normally earn 5,000 rand ($474) a month have gotten nothing since the walkout began, forcing some to sell belongings as union leaders renew demands for higher pay. Mine owners including Lonmin Plc say they are losing $15 million a day and may buy metal to meet supply commitments. Hedge funds more than doubled their bets on higher prices this year, and holdings in exchange-traded funds backed by platinum are up 68% from a year ago.

This longish Bloomberg story, co-filed from Johannesburg and New York, was picked up by the mineweb.com Internet site yesterday---and represents the final offering of the day from Elliot Simon.  It's certainly worth reading.

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Platinum Producers Capitulate on Union Pay Demand

Saying they could "ill afford" it, Anglo American Platinum and Impala Platinum made a startling offer to the Association of Mineworkers and Construction Union (AMCU) on Thursday in a bid to end a 13-week long strike that has shut down much of South Africa's platinum sector.

Both Anglo American and Impala issued press releases stating they would agree to pay entry-level underground workers a minimum of R12,500 a month in pay by July 2017.

The offer appears to substantially meet the AMCU's strike demand on pay that Anglo American, Impala and Lonmin had long maintained was impossible.

I linked this story further up when I was discussing the strange timing of the selloffs in both platinum and palladium in New York trading yesterday, but here it is again if you missed it.  It was filed from Johannesburg---and posted on the mineweb.com Internet site yesterday sometime---and it's worth reading as well.

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Apr 17, 2014

Path to Extinction: Only Three US Companies Still Have AAA Credit Ratings

Their numbers have been dwindling for years, and now only three U.S. companies have the coveted AAA credit rating from Standard & Poor's.

Automatic Data Processing was the latest U.S. blue chip to lose its pristine AAA rating from S&P, downgraded this week after it spun off its auto-dealers services unit, USAToday noted.

That leaves only Johnson & Johnson, Exxon-Mobil, and Microsoft as companies rated AAA, which is reserved for companies with the unassailable financial strength and discipline.

In 1980, there were more than 60 U.S. companies with AAA ratings. That number declined to six in 2008. Since then, General Electric, Pfizer, and now ADP have fallen out of that esteemed ranking.

Today's first news item was posted on the moneynews.com Internet site early yesterday morning EDT---and it's courtesy of West Virginia reader Elliot Simon.

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Yellen: Fed Stimulus Still Needed for Job Market

Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen said Wednesday that the U.S. job market still needs help from the Fed and that the central bank must remain intent on adjusting its policy to respond to unforeseen challenges.

In her first major speech on Fed policy, Yellen sought to explain the Fed's shifting guidance on its interest-rate policy, which at times has confused or jarred investors. She said the Fed's policies "must respond to significant unexpected twist and turns the economy may make."

"Thus far in the recovery and to this day, there is little question that the economy has remained far from maximum employment," Yellen told an audience at the Economic Club of New York.

She said the Fed's forecast for moderate growth has changed little since last fall despite the severe winter. Fed officials still see only a gradual return to full employment over the next two to three years, Yellen said.

This AP news item was picked up ABC News yesterday---and it's the second offering in a row from Elliot Simon.

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Spain ETF Grows as Rajoy Attracts Record US Investments

The iShares MSCI Spain Capped ETF attracted almost $238 million in the period ended April 11, the most for any country, according to data compiled by Bloomberg going back to 2002. Traders have poured money into the exchange-traded fund every week in 2014. The $1.9-billion ETF tracking companies from Banco Santander (SAN) SA to Telefonica SA has gained 5.3% this year, compared with declines in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index and the Stoxx Europe 600 Index.

Confidence is growing that Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy will make good on his pledge to complete an overhaul of Spain’s economy as the nation that sought a bank bailout in 2012 returns to growth. A manufacturing report this month pointed to the fastest expansion since at least April 2011, and lenders from Santander to Banco Popular Espanol SA (POP) are benefiting from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi’s policy to keep interest rates at a record low.

This longish Bloomberg article, filed from London, was posted on their Internet site late yesterday morning MDT---and that makes it three in a row from Elliot Simon.

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Regional Unemployment Highest in Spain

Over two dozen regions throughout the Union have an unemployment rate twice the EU average.

The data, published on Wednesday (16 April), by the EU’s statistical office Eurostat, says the jobless rate in 27 regions in 2013 was higher than 21.6%.

Thirteen are found in Spain, 10 in Greece, three in the French Overseas Departments, and one in Italy.

Five of the worst affected are found in Spain alone.

This story, filed from Brussels, showed up on the euobserver.com Internet site yesterday morning---and it's the first offering of the day from Roy Stephens.

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Eurozone Inflation Stuck in "Danger Zone," Keeps Pressure on the ECB

A shock drop in March eurozone inflation to its lowest level since November 2009 was confirmed on Wednesday, keeping pressure on the European Central Bank to intervene should prices not rebound.

The year-on-year inflation rate in the 18 countries sharing the euro was 0.5% in March against 0.7% in February, the European Union's statistics office Eurostat said.

Inflation has now been in the ECB's "danger zone" of below 1% for six consecutive months, fuelling speculation that the ECB will need to take further action.

ECB policy makers said the bank stood ready to deploy unconventional measures to ensure that inflation did not stay low for too long.

This short, but must-read commentary, was posted on the moneynews.com Internet site early yesterday morning EDT---and it's the fourth and final offering of the day from Elliot Simon.

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Out of Ammo? The Eroding Power of Central Banks

Since the financial crisis, central banks have slashed interest rates, purchased vast quantities of sovereign bonds, and bailed out banks. Now, though, their influence appears to be on the wane with measures producing paltry results. Do they still have control?

Once every six weeks, the most powerful players in the global economy meet on the 18th floor of an ugly office building near the train station in the Swiss city of Basel. The group includes United States Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen and her counterpart at the European Central Bank (ECB), Mario Draghi, along with 16 other top monetary policy officials from Beijing, Frankfurt, Paris, and elsewhere.

The attendees spend almost two hours exchanging views in a debate chaired by Bank of Mexico Governor Agustín Carstens---and the central bankers talk about the economy, growth and market prices.

But ever since many central banks lowered their interest rates to almost zero, bought up sovereign debt and rescued banks, a new, critical undertone has crept into the dinner conversations. Monetary experts from emerging economies complain that the measures taken by Europeans and Americans are pushing unwanted speculative money their way. Western central bankers say they have come under growing political pressure. And recently, when the host of the meetings -- head of the Basel-based Bank for International Settlements Jaime Caruana -- speaks in one of his rare public appearances, he talks about "chronic post-crisis weakness" and "risk." Monetary institutions, says Caruana, are at "serious risk of exhausting the policy room for manoeuver over time."

This longish five-page essay showed up on the spiegel.de Internet site early yesterday afternoon Europe time---and it's the second offering of the day from Roy Stephens. It's definitely worth reading.

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EU Countries to Boost Defence Budgets in Light of Ukraine

Military chiefs have said the Ukraine crisis is a “wake-up call” for E.U. countries’ defence spending, as the US backed Ukraine’s use of force in eastern regions.

Speaking to press after a regular meeting of E.U. defence ministers in Luxembourg on Tuesday (15 April), the deputy chief of the EU’s external action service, Maciej Popowski, said: “We’ve had 70 years of peace now [in Europe], but we see that power politics is back with a vengeance, so it’s a wake-up call and now we need to get serious about defence.”

He noted that “this was the feeling around the table” at the Luxembourg event.

He added that E.U. foreign relations chief Catherine Ashton told the ministers: “If Ukraine is not a trigger to get serious about spending, about pooling and sharing, about smart defence, then what more do we need to get real?”

Blah, blah, blah.  I'll be amazed if this amounts to anything more than talk.  This "news" item was posted on the euobserver.com Internet site yesterday morning Europe time---and I thank Roy Stephens once again for sending it our way.

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Three King World News Blogs

1. Grant Williams: "Remarkable Road Map From $5,000 to $20,000 Gold"  2. Eric Sprott: "Crisis, Gold---and an Incredible Opportunity No One is Looking At"  3. David P: "One of the Greatest Opportunities in More Than a Decade"

[Please direct any questions or comments about what is said in these interviews by either Eric King or his guests to them, and not to me. Thank you. - Ed]

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Scientists Verify World's Largest Single Crystal Piece of Gold

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory in the U.S. have confirmed a 7.68 oz (217.78 g) piece of gold is in fact a single crystal, increasing its value from around US$10,000 to an estimated $1.5 million. The specimen, the largest single crystal piece of gold in the world, was discovered in Venezuela decades ago, but it is only by using advanced probing instruments that experts can now verify its authenticity.

Gold found in the ground will generally have a polycrystalline structure, meaning it is made up of many crystallites, varying in shape and size. Gold of a mono-crystalline structure, where the material is unbroken, are rarer and of significantly higher value. The US-based owner provided geologist John Rakovon with four gold specimens, hoping to determine whether they were of a polycrystalline or mono-crystalline structure.

This very interesting news item, complete with an embedded video, showed up on the gizmag.com Internet yesterday---and my thanks go out to Saskatoon, Saskatchewan reader Marvin Weiler for bringing it to my attention---and now to yours.  If you don't read the article, you should at least look at the picture.

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How Marriage Is Keeping Gold’s Prospects Bright in China

Last year was a big one for gold in China. As Chinese middle-class families, particularly aunties, bought up gold bars and jewelry for their use as accessories as well as investments, China became both the number-one producer and consumer of the precious metal—surpassing even India where yearly bullion demand had long been the world’s highest.

This year, with prices up of gold up, a government campaign against conspicuous spending by officials, and financial reforms designed to increase the availability of other investment opportunities, a new report from the World Gold Council predicts that demand for the metal won’t be as strong as last year.

But there’s one segment of the market that has and should continue to underpin China’s appetite for gold—newlyweds and the people who want to wish them well.

This short, but rather interesting gold-related article showed up on the qz.com Internet site on Tuesday---I found it posted over at the Sharps Pixley website---and here's another article on the same subject from the mining.com Internet site.

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Gold Import Curbs Seen Continuing in India to Help Currency

India, the world’s second-largest gold consumer, will probably keep restrictions on imports to control the current account deficit and defend the rupee, said the managing director of the country’s biggest refiner.

The limits would result in shipments of 650 metric tons to 700 tons in the 12 months started April 1 from 650 tons a year earlier, according to Rajesh Khosla at MMTC-PAMP India Pvt. Purchases were 845 tons in 2012-2013, the finance ministry says. While the form of restrictions may change, the government will continue to restrain buying, he said in an interview.

India represented about 25% of global demand in 2013, the World Gold Council says. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh requires importers to supply 20% of purchases to jewelers for export and sell 80% on the local market. Singh also raised import taxes and only allows banks and government-nominated entities to ship in gold. The new finance minister may review the rules after elections in progress now.

This news item, filed from New Delhi, was posted on the Bloomberg website just before midnight last night Denver time---and it's another story that I "borrowed" from the Sharps Pixley Web site.

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India’s Gold Demand Surges as Supply Declines

Amidst high import duties, the gold demand in India likely to stay high in this year. Last year, India consumed 975 tons and it expects to be between 900 and 1,000 metric tons in 2014.

According to the World Council, last year China overtook India as the biggest consumer of gold in the world and both countries seem to want more gold for further days.

As per the report, India’s current account deficit was narrowed by the stringent import restrictions over the last year whereas the gold smuggling increased, approximately 200 tons of gold. The customs department seized less than 1% of smuggled gold in the last year.

This very short gold-related news item, filed from Mumbai, showed up on the metal.com Internet site in the wee hours of the morning British Summer Time [BST].  It's another story I found over at the sharpspixley.com Internet site just after midnight Denver time [BST-7].

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India's Pain Is UAE's Gain - Indian Expats Buy Up Gold Jewellery

If any nation is happy about India's gold import curbs it is the UAE, where bullion traders are registering brisk sales given the restrictions on the import of the precious metal in India.

The curbs on gold in India have raised demand for gold and diamond-studded gold jewellery among expatriate Indians and visitors from India to the UAE.

"The UAE’s gold trade has become the de facto beneficiary of the Indian government’s tough stance on domestic consumption. There is almost a 16% difference on a per gram basis, in buying gold ornaments in the UAE as compared to buying gold in India," said an official at a store in Dubai's gold souk.

This interesting, but not surprising story, was posted on the mineweb.com Internet site yesterday---and it's worth reading.

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Lawrence Williams: Jansen Sticks By China Gold Demand Figures

There has been a considerable amount of disagreement over China’s real gold demand figures – with some of the differences being accounted for by what is actually being included in the varying estimates, with different analysts coming up with figures between around 1,100 tonnes from organisations like GFMS to over 4,000 tonnes from Alasdair Macleod of Gold Money. While the 1,100 tonne estimates seem on the face of things to be unaccountably low given some of the published statistics on known Chinese imports, the Macleod figures seem unaccountably high.

Somewhere in the middle comes the detailed analyses from China gold watcher Koos Jansen as published on his In Gold we Trust website, and he has now put out a detailed response confirming his own figures and commenting that Macleod’s high figures include unintentional double counting – and given that Chinese sources for this information can be confusing and contradictory, this is not too surprising!

This commentary by Lawrie is definitely worth reading---and it was posted on the mineweb.com Internet site sometime yesterday.

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Apr 16, 2014

Debt Burdens Soar for Major US Companies

Large U.S. companies have more than tripled their debt loads in the past three years, enabling them to spend money without dipping into their record-high cash reserves.

The spending has included share buybacks, dividends and capital investments. Stock buybacks and dividends registered $214.4 billion in the fourth quarter, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The companies are reluctant to spend cash partly because much of it is held offshore and would be subject to taxes if repatriated, the Financial Times reports.

From 2010 to 2013, the 1,100 companies rated by Standard & Poor's for five years or longer saw their combined cash reserves climb $204 billion to $1.23 trillion, according to the FT. That pales in comparison to the $748 billion jump in gross debt to $4 trillion during that period.

This short, but must read news item, was posted on the moneynews.com Internet site early yesterday morning EDT---and today's first story is courtesy of West Virginia reader Elliot Simon.

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France Is the New Cauldron of Eurosceptic Revolution

Britain is marginal to the great debate on Europe. France is the linchpin, fast becoming a cauldron of Eurosceptic/Poujadist views on the Right, anti-EMU reflationary Keynesian views on the Left, mixed with soul-searching over the wisdom of monetary union across the French establishment.

Marine Le Pen’s Front National leads the latest IFOP poll for the European elections next month at 24%. Her platform calls for immediate steps to ditch the euro and restore the franc (“franc des Anglais” in origin, rid of the English oppressors), and to hold a referendum on withdrawal from the EU.

The Gaullistes are at 22.5%. The great centre-Right party of post-War French politics is failing dismally to capitalise on the collapse in support for President François Hollande.

The Parti Socialiste is trailing at 20.5%. The Leftist Front de Gauche is at 8.5% and they are not exactly friends of Brussels.

This Ambrose Evans-Pritchard blog was posted on the telegraph.co.uk Internet site yesterday sometime---and it's the first story of the day from Roy Stephens.

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Russian Holdings of Treasuries Fall to Lowest Since 2011

Russian holdings declined for a fourth straight month, to $126.2 billion, from $131.8 billion in January, according to figures released today in Washington as a part of a monthly report on foreign holders of Treasuries as well as international portfolio flows.

Russia might have been selling Treasuries, world’s most liquid assets, as part of an effort to limit a decline in the ruble, which lost 2% versus the dollar in February, the biggest drop that month among 24 emerging-market peers tracked by Bloomberg. The currency weakened amid rising tensions in Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

“Russia’s been slowly shedding holdings,” said Gennadiy Goldberg, a U.S. strategist at TD Securities USA LLC in New York. “When you try to defend your currency, this is when you really use those Treasury reserves.”

Russia might have also switched custodian from the Federal Reserve to an offshore center, based perhaps in the U.K., said Sebastien Galy, a senior currency strategist at Société Générale SA in New York. If that were the case, the securities would show up in the Treasury’s survey as British holdings.

This Bloomberg news item, filed from Washington, appeared on their Internet site late yesterday morning Denver time---and my thanks go out to Washington state reader S.A. for sending it along.

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Russia's Bond Market Is Achilles Heel as Showdown with West Escalates

Russia is at increasing risk of a full-blown financial crisis as the West tightens sanctions and Russian meddling in Ukraine pushes the region towards conflagration.

The country’s private companies have been shut out of global capital markets almost entirely since the crisis erupted, causing a serious credit crunch and raising concerns that firms may not be able to refinace debt without Russian state support.

“No Eurobonds have been rolled over for six weeks. This cannot continue for long and is becoming a massive issue,” said an official from a major Russian bank. “Companies have to roll over $10bn a month and nothing is moving. The markets have been remarkably relaxed about this, given how dangerous it is. Russia’s greatest vulnerability is the bond market,” he said.

This is another offering from Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.  This one was posted on The Telegraph's Web site late on Monday evening BST---and it's the second contribution of the day from Roy Stephens.  It's worth skimming.

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BRICS Countries to Set Up Their Own IMF

Very soon, the IMF will cease to be the world's only organization capable of rendering international financial assistance. The BRICS countries are setting up alternative institutions, including a currency reserve pool and a development bank.

The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) have made significant progress in setting up structures that would serve as an alternative to the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, which are dominated by the U.S. and the EU. A currency reserve pool, as a replacement for the IMF, and a BRICS development bank, as a replacement for the World Bank, will begin operating as soon as in 2015, Russian Ambassador at Large Vadim Lukov has said.

Brazil has already drafted a charter for the BRICS Development Bank, while Russia is drawing up intergovernmental agreements on setting the bank up, he added.

In addition, the BRICS countries have already agreed on the amount of authorized capital for the new institutions: $100 billion each. "Talks are under way on the distribution of the initial capital of $50 billion between the partners and on the location for the headquarters of the bank.

This story was posted on the Russia Beyond the Headlines Web site on Monday---and it's courtesy of Elliot Simon.

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Chinese Economic Growth Continues to Slow

China's Q1 GDP beat expectations rising 7.4% year-over-year.

Economists polled by Bloomberg were looking for Q1 GDP to rise 7.3%. But this was down from 7.7% the previous quarter, showing that China's economy continues to slow. 

Quarter-over-quarter however GDP was up 1.4% or 5.7% annualized. This was also slower than revised 1.7% growth in Q4 2013 and 7% annualized.

Meanwhile, year-to-date Chinese retail sales were up 12%, beating expectations for an 11.9% rise. For March, retail sales were up 12.2%.

I would expect that China's GDP numbers are massaged to perfection, just as much as the numbers coming out of the United States these days.  This business news item was posted on the Bloomberg Web site late yesterday evening MDT---and it's another contribution from Roy Stephens.

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Japan Risks Public Souring on Abenomics as Prices Surge

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s bid to vault Japan out of 15 years of deflation risks losing public support by spurring too much inflation too quickly as companies add extra price increases to this month’s sales-tax bump.

Businesses from Suntory Beverage and Food Ltd. to beef bowl chain Yoshinoya Holdings Co. have raised costs more than the 3 percentage point levy increase. This month’s inflation rate could be 3.5%, the fastest since 1982, according to Yoshiki Shinke, the most accurate forecaster of Japan’s economy for two years running in data compiled by Bloomberg.

The challenge for Abe and the Bank of Japan is to keep the public focused on the long-term benefits of exiting deflation when wages are yet to pick up and, according to BOJ board member Sayuri Shirai, most people still see price gains as “unfavorable.” Any jump in inflation that’s perceived as excessive by a population more used to prices falling could worsen consumer confidence and make it harder to boost growth.

A policy of "Inflate or die" is fraught with danger, as the Japanese government is discovering to its dismay.  This Bloomberg piece, filed from Tokyo, was posted on their Internet site in the wee hours of Monday morning Denver time.  I "borrowed" this story from yesterday's edition of the King Report---and it's worth reading.

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Kyle Bass: Why Japanese Bonds Look "Terrible"

Hayman Capital's Kyle Bass believes Wall Street's recent declines in the biotech and social media sector, which spread to global stock markets last week, shows cracks in the Japanese economy.

The Japanese Nikkei saw a huge drop last Friday, but the country's benchmark 10-year government bonds did not see yields change as investors fled stocks. Bass, one of the biggest critics of the Japanese economy, has made a big bet on Japan's economy devolving into a debt crisis.

During an interview on CNBC's "Squawk on the Street" on Tuesday, the hedge fund manager said questions remain whether Japan will lose control of interest rates or whether the yen can serve as an "escape valve." Bass sees inflation quickly surpassing Japaneses bond yields, he said.

Kyle only gets 1:03 minutes in this very brief appearance on CNBC yesterday---but it's a must watch.  I borrowed this from Tres Knippa's daily newsletter yesterday.

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Four King World News Blogs

1. Art Cashin: "The Reason Gold, Silver and Commodities Are Getting Smashed"  2. Dr. Stephen Leeb: "Gold and Silver Smashed as incredible Events Unfold in Europe"  3. Dr. Paul Craig Roberts: "U.S. Now Close to Total Collapse"  4. Gerald Celente: "The Vampire Squid, Gold and the Global Ponzi Scheme"

[Please direct any questions or comments about what is said in these interviews by either Eric King or his guests to them, and not to me. Thank you. - Ed]

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Zero Hedge: Gold Futures Halted Again on Latest Furious Slam Down

It seems the two words "fiduciary duty" are strangely missing from the dictionary of the new normal's asset management community. This morning, shortly before 8:27 a.m. ET, someone decided that it was the perfect time to dump thousands of gold futures contracts worth over half a billion dollars notional. This smashed gold futures down over $12 instantaneously, breaking below the 200-day moving averaged and triggering the futures exchange to halt trading in the precious metal for 10 seconds.

Ah, yes---there are those words "fiduciary duty" once again---the other thing, along with their testicles, that precious metal mining executives leave hanging on a nail in the hall closet before they head to the office.  This tiny Zero Hedge piece was posted on their Web site an hour after the Comex event itself---and the charts are worth a look.  I found this worthwhile news item in a GATA release yesterday.

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Dave Kranzler Reports on the Latest Manipulation of the Gold Price

Shortly after the Shanghai gold market closed last night, the market manipulators went to work on the gold price.  Gold was taken down another $20 during the morning trading in London, primarily in three HFT trading induced “mini flash crashes.” There were not any related news reports or events that would have triggered the relentless selling of paper gold (Comex futures via the Globex system and LBMA forward
contracts).

As soon as the Comex floor trading opened at 8:20 a.m. EST, nearly 4,000 contracts were dropped instantaneously onto the floor and into the Globex system.  This is over a half a billion dollars worth of gold – over 10 tonnes of paper gold – in a nanosecond.    This amount represents 47% of the amount of actual physical gold that was reported to be available for delivery by the Comex yesterday.  The sudden burst in volume halted the Comex computer system for 10 seconds.  The contract bomb caused an immediate $16 plunge in the price of gold.   Over a period of seven minutes from the time the Comex opened, over 14,000 contracts traded.  This represented over 18% of the total volume in Comex contracts that had traded in the previous 14 hours of trading starting at 6 p.m. EST the night before.

Obviously this is was intentional and determined selling  of paper gold for the purposes of driving the price a lot lower.  The news reported over the last 24 hours, if anything, should have caused the price of gold to move higher. This includes the re-escalation of the events in Ukraine, an inflation report released this morning which showed that the rate of inflation in March was double the rate that was expected by Wall Street forecasters and a report of manufacturing activity in the northeast which was significantly  lower than expected.

This short must read commentary showed up on the paulcraigroberts.org Internet site yesterday---and I thank Brad Robertson for sending our way.

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China Gold Demand Rising 25% by 2017 as Buyers Get Wealthier

Gold demand in China, which overtook India as the largest user last year, will rise about 25% in the next four years as an increasing population gets wealthier, according to the World Gold Council.

Consumer demand will expand to at least 1,350 metric tonnes by 2017, the London-based council said in a report today. Growth may be limited this year after 2013’s price decline spurred consumers to do more buying last year, it said. China accounted for about 28% of global usage last year, the council estimated in February.

Buying accelerated last year as prices slumped 28%, the most since 1981, and the nation became the top buyer in place of India, where import restrictions curbed demand. China’s economy will expand 7.4% this year, economists surveyed by Bloomberg estimate. While that’s set to be the least since 1990, it’s still more than double expected growth in the U.S.

This Bloomberg story showed up on their Web site during the Denver lunch hour yesterday MDT---and it's another gold-related story that I found over at the gata.org Internet site yesterday.  The World Gold Council's report on which this story is based is linked here.

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Much More to Come in China’s Already "Breathtaking" Gold Story

The scale, scope and speed of the development of the gold market in China to date has been “quite breathtaking” – and there is still a lot more to come, World Gold Council (WGC) investor relations manager John Mulligan indicated on Tuesday.

Speaking to Mining Weekly Online from London, Mulligan revealed that the WGC was engaged in ongoing discussions to support initiatives to make gold even more accessible in China and that various Chinese gold organisations were simultaneously setting out to modernise the entire gold supply chain from mining through to fabrication and appropriate technologies.

In its latest report, titled "China's gold market: progress and prospects," the WGC explains why the Chinese gold market will continue to expand, irrespective of short-term blips in the economy, and calculates that China’s middle class will grow by another 200 million people in the next six years, taking the total in the middle-income bracket to 500 million.

This is the same story as the prior Bloomberg piece, but with a slightly different spin.  This version, filed from Johannesburg, was posted on the miningweekly.com Internet site yesterday.  I thank reader Richard Murphy for finding it for us.

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Wall Street Journal Spins a Gold-Bullish Report to Bearish

China's appetite for gold is waning after a decade-long buying spree, suppressed by the country's economic slowdown and constrained credit markets.

Demand in the world's biggest gold consumer is likely to stay flat in 2014, according to estimates from the World Gold Council. Gold demand in China has expanded every year since 2002, when it declined, according to the industry group, whose forecasts are closely watched in the gold market.

Decelerating Chinese gold demand could threaten the recent recovery in gold prices, some investors and analysts say.

It's hard to believe that the WSJ could spin a sow's ear out of a silk purse, but when something has to be spun with a negative slants, there's always someone up to the task---especially when their jobs may be on the line if they don't.  A lot of gold and silver columnists and so-called experts fall neatly into this category as well.

The above three paragraphs are all there is to this WSJ story---at least that's all there is posted in the clear; and you need a subscription to read the rest.  This is another news item I found on the gata.org Internet site yesterday.

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Lawrence Williams: Chinese Take-Away – WGC Study Leaves Many Questions Unanswered

Further, although this report deals specifically with Chinese demand, the general urbanisation and earnings growth prevalent among the whole Asian gold-oriented populace – which hugely exceeds that of China alone – will also have a similar impact. Gold demand will be increasing hugely so where is the supply going to come from? And supply shortfalls will ultimately result in price increases – perhaps very substantial ones, but maybe not quite yet.

As gold bulls will be only too aware, such factors may take a long time to come to fruition and gold investment has to be seen as for the long term. It cannot be relied upon for short-term gains. That is very much the way the Asian market views it and ultimately – unless there is a total sea change in the way this sector views it – gold will undoubtedly prove perhaps the best asset class of all, particularly as the East begins to dominate global trade and finance as it surely will. Other assets will wax and wane but gold, which has stood the test of time through all kinds of political and financial upheavals over hundreds of years, will likely continue to do so in the years ahead.

Yes, one of these days the gold price will be allowed to rise to something resembling a fair market supply vs. demand price, but as Lawrie is more than aware, it will only happen with the blessing of JPMorgan et al.---and the rest of short sellers of last resort in the paper precious metal market.  This commentary was posted on the mineweb.com Internet site yesterday.

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Koos Jansen: Shanghai Gold Exchange Withdrawals Equal Chinese Gold Demand, Part 3

Gold researcher and GATA consultant Koos Jansen tonight provides his most detailed review yet of China's gold demand and explains why he thinks it is not as much as recently estimated by GoldMoney research director Alasdair Macleod.

Jansen's commentary is headlined Shanghai Gold Exchange Withdrawals Equal Chinese Gold Demand, Part 3, and it's posted at his Internet site, ingoldwetrust.ch.  And the GATA releases just keep on coming---and I thank Chris Powell for wordsmithing the paragraph of introduction.

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Hardly a Mention of Central Banks in Financial Times Report on London Gold Fix

The fix remains the global gold benchmark, used by miners, central banks, jewellers and the financial industry to trade gold bars, value stocks and price derivative contracts. The original five bullion dealers have been replaced by five banks: HSBC, Deutsche Bank, Scotiabank, Barclays, and Société Générale. But the process and traditions are little changed; had Rothschild not sold its fixing seat in 2004, the members might still be meeting in its oak-panelled boardroom with small Union Jack flags on their desks, rather than via conference call.

To supporters of the gold fixing, its longevity is a mark of its efficiency and utility. To a growing group of critics, however, the benchmark is opaque, old fashioned and vulnerable to market abuse.

Pressure to reform is coming from several directions.

Since uncovering evidence of alleged abuse by bankers of the Libor and forex benchmarks, regulators have been scrutinising other big financial benchmarks for signs of weakness. The German watchdog BaFin has requested documents from Deutsche Bank, which has put its seat up for sale, as part of a precious metals market review. Academics have questioned the fix's fairness and suggested possible collusion. Smelling blood, US lawyers launched at least three class action suits in March alleging rigging. From being an asset of considerable prestige, a fixing seat may be turning into a liability.

This longish Financial Times story from Monday---which is long on drivel and short on substance---was posted in the clear on the gata.org Internet site yesterday---and it's not worth reading, at least in my opinion.

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